Sunday, January 31, 2010

Flawless and Hollow

An old adage goes, "Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it." In my last post, I wrote of the flawless victory and the pursuit of perfection. I suppose perfection in one game isn't really the same as pushing toward perfection in my overall chess game. Sheryl Crow sings, "It's not having what you want. It's wanting what you've got."

My game is hardly worth posting because it was too flawless. To protect the innocent, I'm just going to refer you to this game and say that I was on the black side of such a game.

I think this would go into the category of me being too spoiled to be happy with things that other people would be thrilled to have. An eight-move book checkmate. Eight moves for both sides. About five minutes total. No thinking. An early night with plenty of rest. Budapest players dream of luring unsuspecting players into the blunder axb4?? and then playing the fun mating move Nd3#. But my victory was tainted with disappointment and suspicion: disappointment that my chess skill was not really tested and suspicion that my opponent really knew the trap and threw the game.

I just need to count my blessings and be thankful.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mortal Kombat

Chess is the opposite of bloodsport. With a few notable exceptions, it is competition between minds.

Yet, it is intimately tied to war, like war's noncorporeal spirit.

In my opinion, chess will never be a spectator sport. The essential action during a game takes place within the players' minds in the setting up of hundreds of lines of analysis, arrayed like tin soldiers and knocked down with equal dispatch. Only one candidate move emerges from each line to do battle with your opponent's champion. In analysis, I have slain legions of pawns, knights, bishops, rooks, queens and kings. Reading through an unannotated game seems rather Hemingway-esque when you haven't seen and appreciated a representative sample of the blind alleys and parallel universes connected to the eighty or so positions that appear in an average forty-move game.

Last Thursday, I played one of the lower rated players in my championship qualifier group. Although the ratings predict a 98.2% win expectancy. I still feel challenge in making sure that the other 1.8% doesn't catch me. But I also challenge myself to try to win well. In the bloody Mortal Kombat video game as well as in the movie, a completely one-sided victory was announced: "Flawless Victory". I chase the equivalent of chess' flawless victory with better odds when my opponent is significantly more prone to mistakes.

While I was enjoying a middlegame advantage, I overheard a friend speak the word "bloodlust" at a neighboring board in skittles analysis. Amused, I asked what the context was. He explained that "bloodlust" was the craze that befalls you when you are trying to figure out which one of your pieces surrounding the enemy king can deliver the killing blow. I thought of Edward Lasker's book, Chess for Fun and Chess for Blood which I haven't read.

My game didn't end up flawless. In particular, I regretted my 21...Kh7!? as an inaccurate waste of time when I could have played Re6 right away.

I am but Mortal and therefore flawed, yet still I chase perfection.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I haven't written for three weeks partly because I was waiting for my inspiration to crystallize, but my thoughts are getting too expansive to reign into a coherent essay. But I just thought of a scatalogical metaphor for my creative process, so I going to let the thoughts pour out like diarrhea before they make a fully formed stool.

Until recently, I thought that creativity was originality. Within our brains, the spark between dendrite and axon gave birth to a new thing in the universe. But it could be argued that nothing enters our brain but what God created for our brains to consume. Often I despaired that "There is nothing new under the sun" and that perhaps creativity is God's perogative. Artists are but scientists of a different name observing small pockets of unusual phenomena in God's magnum opus and regurgitating what they see. Perhaps the great Playwright predestined that today, this actor would muse about the nature of creativity.

A friend made me listen to William Burroughs' "Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales." One line that struck me was his musing that God cannot act because acting implies resistance. In my world where God is the only Executive Producer and we men and women but plagiarizers, it occurred to me that perhaps God couldn't be an actor because actors have limitations and flaws and affectations which approach untruth. God wouldn't make a very good audience either because none of the humorous punchlines or plot twisting dramatizations would be surprising to omniscience. But I digress.

I was watching a Nova special about dreams and sleep researcher Sarah Mednick stated, "We define creativity as putting together disparate ideas in new and useful combinations." Wikipedia also allows in its definition "new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts." are creative! And here I just considered myself an eclectic plagiarizer.

Recipe for creativity: In a large mixing bowl, combine any two disparate things such as a game of chess and a movie. Salt to taste. Mathematically, x + y = z. Music + sex = rock 'n roll. Writers select words and put them together in metaphors and similes and in ever complex combinations that will take the monkeys a bit more time to copy on their typewriters. The Vulcans have a saying "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations."

I find I'm most creative when I'm on the elliptical exercise machine at the gym. I'm moving, but I can't really hurt myself so I don't have to concentrate on safety. My blood is pumping, creating a heightened state of activity in both mind and body. TV, people, and mountain vista push visual stimuli into the front of my head , my MP3 player pours melodies and lyrics into the sides of my head, and my pumping legs probably throw proprioceptive data into the bottom of my head to the cerebellum. My brain is a mixing bowl. "The overcast sky reaches down with a gauzy hand and touches the stubbly pate of the mountain, like an angel checking a febrile child's temperature." Using a simile to anthropomorphize the relationship between mountain and sky is just another example of a mashup.

But the creative process also involves winnowing. Another friend introduced me to a rejection letter attributed to Samuel Johnson (publisher of the 1755 Dictionary of the English Language). "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." Not every combination deserves to be expressed within the bounds of tasteful discourse (see paragraph 1 for an example). Standards come from somewhere and create evolutionary pressure on these ideas that would otherwise undergo dissemination and miscegenation, ensuring survival of the fascinating-est. People tuning out is a sign that some extinction is going on. Your yawn just weeded out my meme pool.

For those of you who lasted this long, here's a pot o' gold: the artists of the world need a Magic Eight Ball that makes mashups: two windows each with near-infinite diversity that produce near-infinite combinations. Such a device would probably contain a microprocessor. But what self-respecting artiste would admit that his muse was a computer? Solve that problem and you might follow the inventor of the Snuggie onto Easy Street.